By: Hana Papaco
North Carolina State University Pickleball Club (NCSU), the first collegiate Official Club Member of USA Pickleball, hosted the largest collegiate pickleball tournament in the beginning of April. Hosting smaller events and creating connections with other colleges over the last three years helped NCSU organize this historic event.
Robert Valdillez, a fifth-year PhD candidate at NCSU created the pickleball club on campus in 2019 after being a teaching assistant for the Pickleball Physical Education class, which was then taught by former professional racquetball player, Ed Remen. Today, NCSU Pickleball Club has around 35 members, with 20-25 who show up on a regular basis for practice. Jacob Smith, a junior at NCSU and President of the Pickleball Club, has helped Valdillez, now club advisor, grow the program to what it is today. Together, the two have taken the initiative to generate competitive collegiate pickleball opportunities.
They started off small by producing an in-state collegiate round robin tournament with the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill (UNC) and UNC-Charlotte. After hosting that event, NCSU knew they were on the verge of something great. “Jacob and I searched the internet for schools with clubs, emailed the ones we found, and talked to them about their club, how far along they are, answered questions they had for us, and advertised the tournament,” explained Valdillez.After figuring out dates, sponsors and generating enough fundraising money, NCSU had put the finishing touches on organizing the biggest collegiate pickleball tournament in history.
April 9-10, 2022, NCSU hosted the first ever Atlantic Intercollegiate Major presented by Pickleball Den, the biggest collegiate pickleball tournament to date! Six schools from throughout the east coast traveled to Raleigh for the tournament, including UNC, UNC-Charlotte, Southern Virginia University, James Madison University, University of Virginia, and University of Florida.
The two-day tournament consisted of 2-4 hours of competition with Saturday being a Round Robin through each event. Depending on how each team finished on the first day is where they were placed to play on Championship Sunday, (#1 vs #2, #3 vs #4, etc.). University of Florida took the top team spot, with UNC receiving silver, and the host team NCSU taking bronze. The tournament also handed out MVP awards to the male and female with the best record for the weekend. Django Chassang from University of Florida took the MVP award for the men, and Sarah Carpenter from UNC won women’s MVP.
NCSU received prize money from Pickleball Den, the presenting sponsor, to give out to the top three finishing teams, as well as received funds from the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance that NCSU gave to traveling teams to support with hotel or gas fees. They also received a paddle from CRBN and Rokne to give to the men’s and women’s MVPs for the weekend.
Smith and Valdillez reflect on the weekend, calling it a tremendous success. “The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, which was great to hear,” explained Smith, “Every school said they enjoyed it, and some are now thinking about hosting their own tournaments.”
Valdillez’s advice for college students who are interested in creating a pickleball club on campus is to connect with campus faculty to find a champion of the sport.Valdillez gives a lot of credit to their first pickleball club advisor, Ed Remen, for getting the club off its feet. He provided the first set of equipment and was just as excited about creating the pickleball club as the students were. NCSU’s Pickleball Club would not be in the position it is in today without the support of Ed Remen.After their creation of the Atlantic Intercollegiate Major, NCSU has exemplified that pickleball belongs in the college athletic community.
North Carolina State University would like to give a special thanks to the following sponsors for making the first Atlantic Intercollegiate Major a success: Pickleball Den, Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, Jigsaw Health, Total Pickleball, Rokne Pickleball, CRBN Pickleball, PicklePlay, and I Love Pickleball North Carolina.
If you are interested in creating a pickleball club on your college campus, please reach out to Coordinator of Recreational Programs, Hana Papaco, for more information. Hpapaco@usapickleball.org